Our history


The early days, 1948-50

Marie Curie's origins are linked to the Marie Curie Hospital  , at 2 Fitzjohn's Avenue, Hampstead.

This pioneering hospital, opened in 1930 by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, specialised in the "radiological treatment of women suffering from cancer and allied diseases". It was staffed by medical women, and cared for 700 patients a year in 39 beds, with facilities for radium and x-ray therapy, and modern pathological and research laboratories.

In 1944, most of the hospital was destroyed by a direct hit in an air raid. It took three weeks to recover the hospital's radium sources, which were stored in steel cylinders in the floor.

In 1948, five members of the re-establishment committee set up to oversee rebuilding of the hospital decided to separate themselves from the new NHS. Instead, they sought to perpetuate the name of Marie Curie in the charitable medical field.

The Marie Curie International Memorial was formally established on 6 July 1948, and shortly afterwards became the Marie Curie Memorial Foundation. This was the beginning of the charity that is now known as Marie Curie.

Around the same time, fundraising for the new charity started when Mrs Alice Macpherson donated her diamond engagement ring, which sold for £75.

The foundation then launched an appeal, bringing in £4,000, and Marie Curie's daughter Eve gave us permission to use her mother's name. Read more about Marie Curie the scientist.

Working with the Queen's Institute of District Nursing, the charity's inaugural committee launched a joint national survey to investigate the needs of cancer patients and the best ways of helping them. The detailed report set the direction for our work in our early years.

Our priorities were:

  • establishing special residential homes to care for cancer patients
  • providing home nursing
  • providing help with practical needs such as bed linen, furniture and medical equipment
  • giving the public advice about cancer and the help available for patients

Our work starts, 1950-60

Residential homes

The first Marie Curie Home for cancer patients was opened in 1952, based in an old National Trust property called the Hill of Tarvit in Cupar, Fife. The ground floor apartments contained a collection of furniture, paintings and porcelain, which were kept open to the public, in return for rent set at £1.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the charity opened nine more Marie Curie Homes in adapted buildings.

They were:

  • Tidcombe Hall, Tiverton (1953)
  • Edenhall, Hampstead (1954)
  • Strathclyde House, Glasgow (1954)
  • Conrad House, Newcastle upon Tyne (1957)
  • Sunnybank, Liverpool (1959)
  • Holme Tower, Penarth (1959)
  • Harestone, Caterham (1961)
  • Ardenlea, Ilkley (1963)
  • Belfast Home, Belfast (1965)
  • Warren Pearl House, Solihull (1965)

Nursing

From its earliest days, the Marie Curie Memorial Foundation helped patients who needed nursing at home – initially by providing welfare grants to fund night nursing provided by other organisations.

In 1958, following a joint national survey carried out with the Queen's Institute of District Nursing, the charity began running its own day and night nursing service.

This service started off in London, and was soon extended elsewhere. By the end of the 1950s, Marie Curie home nursing was available in nine areas of the UK.

Research

One of our other aims was to make a significant contribution to medical research – initially by making grants to fund research into the causes and treatments of cancer. In 1952, we funded a research fellowship to investigate the relationship between physiological activity and chemical structure in drugs for the treatment of blood cancers. Further grants followed.


Growth, 1960-80

Homes

The 10 Marie Curie Homes we founded in the 1950s and early 1960s were all housed in converted buildings – including a prep school, a railwaymen's convalescent home, a police orphanage and several mansions. They were far from ideal for caring for seriously ill cancer patients. In the 1960s, we decided that all future Marie Curie Homes would be purpose-designed and built. The first was opened in Belfast in 1965. A similar, larger building followed in Fairmile, Edinburgh, in 1966.

We also began to replace existing homes with purpose-built ones, starting with Edenhall (in Hampstead) and Strathclyde House (Glasgow) in 1967. Our first Marie Curie Home, the Hill of Tarvit – which was no longer viable because of its remote location – was closed in 1977.

Throughout this stage in their development, the Marie Curie Homes relied primarily on local GPs for clinical cover.

Home nursing

Our day and night nursing service continued to grow throughout the 1960s. By 1974, when responsibility for community care in England and Wales passed to the NHS, Marie Curie Nurses were caring for 3,664 people across 200 local authorities.

At this point, the charity negotiated a 50:50 sharing of costs for the service in England and Wales with the NHS at local level taking responsibility for deployment of nurses. Similar arrangements were negotiated later in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Research

We opened our own research facility at the Marie Curie Home in Caterham in 1962. Early work focused on controlling the growth and proliferation of hormone-dependent tumours.

In 1967, we opened bigger laboratories at a converted former convalescent home in Limpsfield Chart, Oxted, and extended the scope of our cancer research.

Fundraising

The Marie Curie Memorial Foundation was a pioneer of direct-mail fundraising – writing to potential donors and asking them for support. Appeals were backed by popular celebrities including Wilfred Pickles  , Dame Flora Robson   and Henry Cooper  .


Development, 1980-2000

Hospices

From the early 1980s, Marie Curie Homes (later Marie Curie Hospices) moved away from providing long-term nursing care to cancer patients, and became increasingly focused on hospice care.

This meant they cared for more patients, who were more seriously ill, usually for shorter periods of time.

The medical side of care was increasingly led by consultants in palliative medicine, while specialised services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy were provided by allied health professionals.

Marie Curie Hospices also developed a wide range of day services, reaching out into their communities.

Nursing

Home nursing continued to be our core service, providing vital support for people with terminal cancer (and an increasing number of people with other illnesses). By the late 1990s, Marie Curie was reaching around 40% of the people in the UK who died of cancer at home.

Research

The Marie Curie Research Institute focused on molecular biology, seeking to identify the mechanisms in the cell that are altered in cancer.

Marie Curie scientists published their work in leading journals, and the Research Institute hosted international meetings. The charity contributed significantly to scientific knowledge in key areas, including bladder cancer, gene transcription mechanisms and the cell's internal transport system.

In the 1990s, we also began to carry out palliative care research – investigations focused on improving care for people approaching the end of their lives. Marie Curie researchers were amongst the pioneers in this very new field.

Fundraising

We ran our first daffodil appeal – with live daffodils – in Scotland in 1986. The appeal continued to grow throughout the 1990s, and we incorporated the daffodil into our logo, where it remains today.

Fundraising grew and diversified, as we established community fundraising across the UK, developed fundraising partnerships with major companies and opened our first charity shops.

In October 1995, we also officially took on a new name: the Marie Curie Memorial Foundation became Marie Curie Cancer Care.


Since 2000

Campaigning

We launched our first national campaign – 'Supporting the choice to die at home' – in 2004. This helped put end of life care on the political agenda – and now all major parties in all four nations are committed to increasing people's choice over their place of death.

We continue to campaign for terminally ill people to be able to die in their place of choice.

Equality of access

During this period, we committed to provide care to all people with a terminal illness, regardless of their diagnosis, solely on the basis of need.

Care

Marie Curie pioneered new ways of providing care for terminally ill people, helping them to stay at home until the end of their lives.

Working closely with the NHS, local independent hospices and other charities, we developed services designed around people's needs. Research showed that we successfully helped more terminally ill people to remain in their homes.

The Marie Curie Nursing Service continued to grow – reaching increasing numbers of people at the end of their lives. A major study by the Nuffield Trust provided strong evidence that the Marie Curie Nursing Service reduces the need for emergency hospitalisation, allows more people to die at home and cuts hospital costs.

Marie Curie Hospices continued to develop their care, expanding the services they offered in local communities, especially day services, to become regional centres of excellence in care.

We replaced our hospices in Glasgow and Solihull with modern buildings designed around the needs of patients and families.

We also introduced the Marie Curie Helper service – in which trained volunteers help local people with a terminal illness.

Research

We now focus our research efforts on finding better ways of caring for terminally ill people and their families (palliative care research).

In recent years, we've significantly increased our funding in this area, setting up new research teams at UCL (London), Liverpool University and Cardiff University. We also established a major grants programme, awarding around £1 million every year to fund palliative care research projects, on a competitive basis. We are now one of the UK's leading funders of palliative care research.

The future

Our strategic plan for 2014-19 sets out our response to the challenges faced by people living with a terminal illness today. We plan to offer care and support to more people, reach them sooner after their diagnosis and help them in different ways.